Berta Rojas, guitarist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

It was my personal decision to pursue a musical career. In my youth, it was not well looked upon to study something related to the arts. You were expected to pursue only traditional careers such as economics or engineering. As for my greatest musical influence, that is undoubtedly Agustín Pio Barrios, Mangoré, the greatest guitarist-composer of all time.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think the biggest challenge has been to define myself as a guitarist. It was uncommon in my homeland to become a musician, and there were no options to study music at a high academic level. So, I had to leave Paraguay at a very young age to pursue a career in music.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps playing at the Globe in London, when John Williams honoured me with an invitation to play there. As an encore, we played the Danza Paraguaya together and that duet with him will be forever ingrained in my memory because of Williams’ immense generosity, who delighted me with the unforgettable sound of his guitar.

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I think my repertoire based on the works of Agustín Pio Barrios performs best, as I believe they have made the deepest impression on me.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Recently, I heard a remarkable musician say that the sound of the rain and the wind shaped his sound, and that silence had enriched it. I think that knowing how to listen to silence has been an important space of inspiration, and to then fill with sound.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I feel what music resonates in my heart and what stories I want to tell. For example, right now I am telling the stories of women pioneers who were part of the history of the guitar and yet are seldom mentioned, such as Ida Presti, the great guitar virtuoso of the 20th century, and María Luisa Anido, the first concert guitarist in Latin America. I am playing the music they wrote and the music they inspired. Doing so fills me with happiness, as I am using my voice to help make these master guitarists a part of the conversation, which is a task in which I am preceded by great colleagues.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Every audience has its own magic and unique charm. In Japan I felt very content every time I performed; they have an extremely affectionate way of treating artists. I was struck by the fact that they encourage you to play a lot of encores; they like the lighter works that are usually played outside of the program… I find this amusing…!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

Educating children from a young age to be good listeners of the world of sound. Roger Brown, former president of the Berklee College of Music where I teach, said that children who start their day listening to music are better prepared to listen attentively to a day of classes. Maybe schools should try this formula.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I remember a concert in Paraguay during a tour with Juan Cancio Barreto, a renowned Paraguayan musician. We were heading to our first concert of the tour, and the road was blocked by a protest of fishermen who had lost their jobs due to the construction of a dam. When we approached them, they asked us to serenade them. And so, in the middle of a road in Paraguay, sitting on my guitar case, and with my duo with their requinto on their shoulders, we played the most unexpected concert of our lives.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success to me is satisfaction with one’s achievements, and motivation to continue achieving further goals.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Enjoy the journey and the learning process and understand that failures can be corrected. When you do that, the satisfaction of achievement is immense. The ability to share, connect, to give, and receive, should be the primary objectives of music.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

We should be talking about what drives us to be musicians. I think that engaging in a deep reflection on the reasons why we make music is an important life exercise.

What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Enjoying life to its fullest, and playing my guitar without haste, with the same emotion as today.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness does not seem to exist without moments of anguish, sadness, or desolation. It is only after experiencing these emotions that we can value happy moments when they emerge, and we treasure them only once we have understood their fragility.

What is your most treasured possession?

My guitar. After having lost and then recovered her, I feel that she and I are equals in the music we have yet to share.

What is your present state of mind?

Peace, creativity, reflection, and serene happiness.

Berta Rojas ranks among today’s foremost classical guitarists. She has been praised as “guitarist extraordinaire” by the Washington Post and by Classical Guitar Magazine as “Ambassador of the classical guitar.”

Berta has been nominated three times for Latin Grammy Awards; in the category of Best Instrumental Album for Día y Medio – A Day and a Half, a duet with Paquito D’Rivera (2012), in the category of Best Classical Album, for her album Salsa Roja (2014), and more recently in the category of Best Tango Album, for her album History of Tango (2015), recorded with the Camerata Bariloche.

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Photo by Guillermo Fridman